11 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 35


Despite its allusive twin titles, it seems that the onlie begetter of this absolutely excellent first book by a Hoosier Professor of English, bearded, happily married with two little daughters and himself not yet born when Horizon was taken off the editorial and proprietorial respirator after a decade of hyperactive artistic life, was George Orwell. Remarking on the latter's death in the same year as the magazine, the author, in one of his very few possibly questionable value judgments, hails him as its 'greatest contributor'. It was in the course of his London researches on Orwell, whose biography, on the strength of this book, he has very sensibly been Commissioned by Hamish Hamilton to undertake, that Shelden encountered Ian Angus, the highly accomplished co-editor of Orwell's collected essays, journalism and letters. Angus, besides underlining the Eric Blair-Cyril Connolly links going back to their Eastbourne prep-schooldays with Cecil Beaton, pointed him in the direction of the two Bloomsbury offices, where Cyril and his Financial Guardian Angel (Hori- zon only once came in sight of breaking even), the farouche, rather Kafkaesque- looking millionaire and exceptionally dis- cerning Maecenas Peter Watson from the bridge boxed the artistic compass with their binoculars while the donkey-work in the editorial engine room was daily done by one or sometimes two young ladies as unlike most people's idea of dailies as it is Possible to be. I never pass through Bed- ford Square or take the dog-leg turn past Coram's Fields without thinking of those wartime days and of Cyril and Ses Girls.

Sadly, at the time of his death in 1974, in Doughty Street round the corner it was decided that The Spectator should reprint a Pathetically jealous and ill-informed piece by the brilliant war reporter Martha Gell- horn's stone-deaf and embittered second husband, the former Time person Tom Mathews. I much prefer the fan letter, quoted by Mr Shelden, sent to Cyril by her first husband Ernest Hemingway who in 1948, four years after the appearance of The Unquiet Grave, wrote: 'I always get involved in wars but I admired the way you did not. I am no good at saying this sort of thing but I wanted you to know how strongly I felt it and how much the Palinur- us book meant to me.'

A few yards east in the Grays Inn Road, John Carey put the finishing touches to his bleating attack on Cyril's fondness for quoting what he called such 'exotic and obscure' writers as du Bellay, Chamfort, Chuang-Tse and the Greek epigrammat- ists, to name but a few. In this he proved

Tales of a dandy decade

Alastair Forbes


Hamish Hamilton, £15.95, pp.254 himself something of a forerunner of all those whingeing present-day reviewers who have expressed themselves as much disturbed by the vocabulary, surely no- thing out of the ordinary in an educated woman, of the novelist Candia McWil- liam as I am myself by her extraordinarily appetising appearance. We probably need not bother ourselves with Antonia Fraser, as poor a judge as a practitioner of prose despite her high sales and high PEN Club office, who found that the collection of Cyril's excitingly enthusiastic youthful let- ters to Noel Blakiston 'actually manages to

be — nay insists on being — dull'. Perhaps the loudest jarring note was struck by my old friend and half-a-century and more ago King's Cambridge chum Noel Annan, himself a past Horizon con- tributor, who, pocketing a telegram of congratulation on his Maurice Bowra eulo- gy Cyril had sent him from his hospital deathbed, absurdly declared in the New York Review of Books that Horizon was 'an overrated little magazine far less im- portant than the wartime Scrutiny'. This was surely carrying exceptional Cambridge esprit-de-corps exceptionally far in defence of that rum Downing couple both of whose

lectures I once used to attend out of inveterate curiosity in the days long before Cyril's joke, 'Even Professor Leavis must have been young once and worn a tie', grew obsolete as Israeli politicians invari- ably attended Cabinet meetings attired in

Leavis basse couture.

Despite Orwell's surely rather frivolous- ly puritanical view once expressed that one should never write anything the working classes didn't understand and should avoid all adjectives, Shelden, while stopping short of the opinion of Cyril's one-time dilettante employer Logan Pearsall Smith that short sentences, one after the other, get monotonous and jerky and that one should go for

long sentences, with qualifications in them, tangling and untangling themselves (as Stevenson puts it) like knots of string, interspersed now and then with quite short ones,

soon fell under the Connolly spell, marvell- ing how

at his best he manages to move smoothly through his subject, taking on, in turns, the parts of literary critic, cultural commentator, autobiographer, travel writer, humorist and lyric prose-poet.

(In The Unquiet Grave Evelyn Waugh himself found descriptions 'as beautiful as any passages of English prose that I know'). He records and clearly shares Edmund Wilson's view that it is no use being angry with Connolly. Whatever his faults may be, he has himself described them more brilliantly than anyone else is likely to do — he is one of those fortunate Irishmen, like Goldsmith and Sterne and Wilde, who are born with a gift of style, natural grace and wit, so that their jobs [sic] have the freshness of jeux d'esprit, and

sometimes their jeux d'esprit turn out to stick and [become] classics.

He also cites the praise of that grand panjandrum of the US literary and pub- lishing world, Professor Jacques Barzun. Yet he equally feels conscientiously obliged to quote a Harvard critic called Harry Levin who, writing in 1946 in The New Republic when it was still financed by Anthony Blunt's Cambridge recruit Michael Straight, condemned Connolly's work as serving notice 'that England, long declining into a second-class power, has begun her decline into a second-class cul- ture'.

Alas, absent from the index and text is Levin, Bernard, who, a quarter-century after this dyspeptic Paul Johnsonian sort of dismissal by his transatlantic surnamesake, gave up, an autumn before Connolly's last, all 30 column-inches of his allotted Times space under the heading 'My Horizons of Gold' to the tale of his triumphant pur- chase of a full set of Horizon. He raptur- ously related how he 'sat cross-legged on the carpet for some days after it arrived, and my conclusion was that the magazine's achievement was fully equal to its post- humous reputation'. This he had already condensed into his conclusion, 'let us simply say that, of the magazines Scrutiny, Horizon, Life & Letters, Criterion, En- counter, to say nothing of those that even I have forgotten [he had notably forgotten Miron Grindea's Adam and the London Magazine, admirably edited by Alan Ross], Horizon was the best.' What is more, he devoted a full four inches to an alphabetical list of distinguished contribu- tors from Joe Ackerley as far as Patrick Kavanagh and Laurie Lee before stopping to reflect that he hadn't even got halfway and had left out the painters, the reproduc- tion of whose work showed a similarly all-embracing sweep of the field, and he concluded, 'Can any other magazine, alive or dead, show such a range? I think not.' Cyril was audibly and visibly chuffed by this praise, even if, like all other praise, it probably before long turned in his angst- ridden soul to dust and ashes.

Mr Shelden has been just as thorough if not more so in his researches into Peter Watson's life and deserves thanks for doing such justice to his really enlightened pat- ronage of painters, to say nothing of his important role in establishing the ICA. Watson's masocho-romantic love life makes rather sad reading, though instinc- tively queer-bashing readers may find it easier going by quite simply substituting girls' names for the boys. There is not much new under the sun. As Cyril once said, 'If love is neurosis, give it to me every time'.

Over the wartime years much and some- times all of the weight of both Horizon and Cyril was willingly born by pretty Lys Lubbock, sometime by deed poll Connol- ly, of whom the book contains a haunting picture taken by that beautiful photo- grapher of beauty, the late Lee Miller. She looks in it rather like an exquisite geisha and that was how she saw and performed her role at Cyril's side, and performed it admirably, as all of us recall who ate often and gratefully at her excellent table. (Shel- den doesn't seem to realise that chicken, fish, game and offal were off the ration, as well as much else, though he has hoisted in that rationing, austerity and sheer cold became much more severe after victory had been won over both the Axis and the Conservative party.) Poor sweet Lys, with her bird-like chirp of a voice, was after faithful years to become a victim of what Palinurus's favourite aphorist, Chamfort, had long since spotted: 'L'amant trop aime de sa maftresse semble l'aimer moins' , adding that a person feeling incapable of adequately repaying kindness usually falls into ingratitude.

The other important girl in both Hori- zon's life and Cyril's was Sonia Brownell, later Orwell, a curious mixtureof blowsy Renoir blonde and jolly hockeysticks pre- fect out of the world of Arthur Marshall, fast only at typing and shorthand, who had first come on the Horizon scene as a Euston Road Groupie of William Cold- stream's, but whose on the whole well- meaning bossiness and intellectual snob- bery had well cast her for the role she was to play on both sides of the Channel before the end of her life. Shelden, who will doubtless examine her more closely still in his next book, reveals her as the 'automatic pilot' on which Horizon was often flying while Palinurus was either swanning it away with Lys or Watson on the Continent or otherwise going compulsively over- board, less and less from an incurable Cherubino-complex than from his autum- nal 'projection of lost early loves on to one person'.

It was certainly sporting of David Astor to allow the author to reprint the absurdly pompous letter of rebuke he sent to Cyril not long before he persuaded his father to sack him from his 1942-3 literary editorship of the Observer 'in the interest of having harmony and mutual confidence among those working for the paper'. What David Astor seemed increasingly to forget, as his witty and light-hearted younger brothers Michael and Jakie never could, was the truth of another maxim of Chamfort's and for my money the best: 'La plus perdue de toutes les journees est celle ou l'on n'a pas ri'. No one who worked at the Observer, as I did myself for part of that time, could fail

to make fun of its self-consciously priggish, yet philistine, atmosphere at, not least, the ghastly weekly editorial conferences over a lunch of stodgy sandwiches and teetotal refreshment. Even Orwell who, on his introduction by Cyril to Astor had become the latter's hero, called Astor's then stooge editor, the philologist drama critic Ivor Brown, 'that silly owl'. (As far as I recall,. Cyril called him Father Christmas, because of the heavy snowfalls of dandruff that never left his hunched shoulders.) Astor naively supposed that Lords Beaverbrook, Kemsley and Rothermere were never mocked or mimicked behind their backs by their employees: he had evidently become corrupted by power even before tasting it to the full which he later did with a vengeance when he remained glued to the editorial chair for longer than he had once attacked J. L. Garvin for being. Cyril did more for the Observer than it did for him and was always there kind to younger writers and journalists, as he indeed was all his life everywhere. The book's illustrations are also excel- lent, though they are often insufficiently captioned. For instance, Cecil Beaton's snapshot of the party after Stephen Spen- der's wedding to Natasha Litvin distinctly shows Guy Burgess as well as Iris Tree's son Ivan Moffat who, on one of his recent rare visits to London from his Beverly Hills home, innocently remarked to Sir Stephen, 'You seem to have become such an Estab- lishmentarian figure that I shouldn't be at all surprised if you get offered a knight- hood one of these days.' Also the touching, wistful face of the doomed Mamaine Paget Koestler surely merited her name beneath it.

For the rest, Mr Shelden deserves hearty congratulation for so well recapturing the atmosphere in a country far from his Indiana home, of a rapidly receding period of relatively recent history of which there are not many survivors about. There is only one Shelden judgment on Connolly with which I must emphatically disagree and that is his statement that by 1953 'the best years of his career were behind him'• On the contrary, I regard his 20 or so Sunday Times years as by far the most fruitful, (in that, loins demonstrably fol- lowing prose). Like Sainte Beuve before him, whom I have come to consider the lesser critic, with Cyril's Causeries de Dimanche superior to the former's Causer- ies de Lundi and far more readable, he had long wrongly believed his true vocation to be fiction. Volume was poor man's Balzac, and let's face it The Rock Pool remains just plain poor. But I never fail to find delight and enlightenment every time I take down from the shelf Previous Convictions or The Evening Colonnade, the collections of per- fect essays the like of which we have not seen in any newspaper since his death. I hope Mr Shelden will have sparked a Connolly craze in a new generation of readers. They will not be disappointed.